BMW M4 VS Mercedes-Benz SL-Class
- Adaptive suspension
- Ripping dual-clutch auto
- No AEB
- Awkward access to tight rear seats
- So-so warranty
- Amazing ride
- Brilliant engine
- Unparalleled presence
When it comes to cars, the letters B, M, and W carry huge credibility. But the extra letters and numbers that follow make all the difference.
A second M for example, means the hot rodders in the Munich maker's performance and racing skunkworks have played with everything from the drivetrain, aero and suspension, to the rims, rubber and interior design.
The number sitting next to it then determines whether you're looking at a compact firecracker (M2), fast-lane monster (M5), or bruising family truckster (X6 M). But every now and then some additional letters find their way onto even a BMW M car's bootlid.
In this case, a C and an S are significant additions to the already impressive M4 badge. They stand for Coupe Sport and were famously applied to BMW's achingly beautiful (E9) coupes of the late 1960s and early '70s.
So, with the howling echo of that all-time classic's in-line six ringing in its ears, the new M4 CS stands up as a proper high-performance coupe, pitched against the likes of Audi's recently reborn RS 5, the Lexus RC F, and Merc-AMG's soon-to-arrive C 63 S Coupe.
Does the CS legend live? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Well. They don't make cars like this anymore, do they? Time was, a big coupe or convertible were de rigeur for the well-heeled banker, with 12 cylinders almost a given and fuel consumption measured in super tankers, or more likely just not talked about at all.
The world has changed but Mercedes’ SL hasn't. That's not strictly true, of course. The SL63 may drop four of the SL65's 12 cylinders, but at just half a litre smaller and still with twin-turbos it generates the enormous thrust a luxo-barge like this needs. The things that made it an icon are indeed still there - lots of tech, a style all its own and a name everyone recognises.
|Engine Type||5.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The BMW M4 CS is every bit as fast and engaging as you'd expect it to be. But be prepared for the day-to-day compromises that go with its pared back interior layout. It's beautifully engineered and dynamically excellent, but will have its hands full when Merc-AMG's similarly sized and priced (updated) C 63 S Coupe arrives shortly to rattle its cage.
Is the BMW M4 CS your kind of four-seat sledgehammer? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
BMW offers the 'Service Inclusive' program, a one-off advance payment to cover scheduled costs at the 'Basic' or 'Plus' level.
The SL's overall score is somewhat skewed by everyday concerns, and rules are rules - an average punter will find the price of this car somewhat confusing and the devil-may-care attitude to fuel consumption bewildering.
If neither of these things are a problem, then the SL63 makes plenty of - well, not sense, because it's not a particularly clever or considered car - but it fills a niche that not so long ago we all thought would go the way of the dodo.
The fact it sells so few examples is betrayed by some of the cabin amenities and the fact that Mercedes hasn't put much effort into reducing the car's weight to improve its consumption or sharpen up the handling.
The fact it still exists at all is pretty damn cool, though, and for certain people an SL63 purchase is the culmination of a lot of hard work.
If it is your dream car, the SL63 won't disappoint. Everyone who rode with me said it was mightily impressive, but you've got to really want it. When you're not far off buying a Ferrari California T or Aston Martin V12 Vantage S for the money, you'll need a real yearning for the three-pointed star to go this way. And if you do, good luck to you - you've probably worked quite hard to get here.
Would you consider the SL63 over a Ferrari or Aston-Martin? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The M4 in either entry-level Pure, or next-step-up Competition spec already looks like John Cena in a 10-year-old's t-shirt, with muscular bumps, curves and cuts extending aggressively in all directions. From its bulbous 'power dome' bonnet, to the pumped-up guards and gaping vents, the M4 screams 'don't argue'.
But this CS version borrows heavily from the track-focused M4 GTS (phased out earlier this year) and dials the aggro up a few notches.
A Matterhorn-sized bulge in the centre of the lightweight CFRP (Carbon-Fibre Reinforced Plastic) bonnet descends towards a broad air extraction vent that could double as a stormwater drain in bad weather.
The front, exposed carbon splitter is a slightly less accentuated version of the GTS's race-ready set-up, and the signature kidney grille is finished in menacing gloss black.
That black finish, part of the standard BMW Individual 'Shadow Line' package, also extends to the side-window trim, window recess covers, and vents on the front wings.
CFRP (unpainted this time) reappears on the roof, and an exposed carbon Gurney flap-style spoiler adds a touch of flash and aero efficiency to the bootlid. A nice match for the carbon diffuser below.
Suitably wide black alloy rims (19-inch front, 20-inch rear) further enhance the intimidating look, with twin LED headlights and an 'Organic rear lighting system', the latter another lift from the GTS, delivering an impressively vivid display.
The interior is familiar BMW territory, but it does feel like you've had a nasty break-up and your significant other has filled the moving van with all the luxury bits.
The leather and Alcantara trimmed sports seats are classy and racy enough, but the door cards are made from a natural-fibre composite BMW calls 'Nawaro'. There are no storage pockets, and you get a webbing strap to help pull the door closed.
Super lo-fi, and bafflingly, the 'armrest' slopes downward at an angle that, despite an Alcantara-trimmed pad, makes it just about impossible to actually rest your arm on it. Perhaps it adds some wheel-twirling elbow room, but for the other 99 per cent of the time it's just annoying.
Although trimmed in contrast-stitched Alcantara, the centre console is also a rudimentary affair, with no storage box between the front seats or adjustable air vents for rear-seat passengers. It might be good for weight saving, but it's not so great in terms of day-to-day practicality (which we'll get to shortly).
There's more Alcantara on the M Sport steering wheel (a leather wheel is a no-cost option) and dash-panel insert, with the CS designation neatly called out in mosaic-style lettering near the centre stack.
The SL has always been completely unapologetic about its size and seems to be designed to accentuate rather than hide its length and width. The long bonnet screams power and prestige, and get out of my way, and is reminiscent of the little-loved McLaren SLR project of some years ago.
The size of the Mercedes logo on the huge front grille leaves you in little doubt about the brand of car that’s about to pass you at speed and some might say (okay, I would) that its large surface area is a little vulgar.
Like the SLR, the design doesn't seem to have a particularly cohesive strategy, with a number of Mercedes elements from around the traps that climb over each other. Roof up it looks awkward because of the gigantic posterior while with the roof down it looks overly long and, again, tail-heavy.
Folding hardtops are notoriously cumbersome and need a lot of room to hide them, but the silent operation is something to behold.
Elements that are worth deleting if possible are the dodgy 'Biturbo' badges. It's that kind of bling that gets people raising their little finger at you.
When it comes to cars, practicality is a subjective area. The M4 CS offers plenty of space for the driver and front-seat passenger, with room for two more in the back, as well as a decent boot. Practical, right?
But day-to-day details make all the difference and the drive to simplify the CS's cabin and reduce the car's overall weight has seen many common interior-storage options deleted.
The price CS owners pay for racy minimalism is a complete absence of door bins, no lidded box between the front seats, and no oddments tray in the middle of the centre console. Just a pair of cupholders ahead of the gearshift, and a shallow tray beyond that.
If you and a friend get into the car each carrying a standard load of personal junk like a phone, keys, wallet, and a beverage of some description, capacity is immediately exceeded.
Yes, you can shove all that 'stuff' into the (medium-sized) glove box, and that's probably the safer option anyway. But it's not as convenient as slipping things into strategically placed bins and boxes.
In terms of charging/connectivity there's a 12-volt outlet between the cupholders, and a single USB port oddly placed towards the rear of the centre console.
And while there are two seats in the back, getting to them requires the flexibility of a side-show contortionist, and the patience of a Tesla Model 3 reservation holder (the electric system that slides the front seat forward is glacially slow).
Even once you've managed to thread the needle through to the back, headroom is tight, so it's fine for kids and an occasional-only option for grown-ups. There are no cupholders or even a fold-down centre armrest back there, but there is a small, open oddments tray between the seats.
A cargo net is standard, there are four tie-down anchors, a small netted storage section behind the passenger side wheel tub, a cubby on the opposite side, shopping-bag hooks and conveniently placed handles, which release the 60/40 split-folding rear seat backs to liberate more room.
Don't bother looking for a spare wheel of any description. A repair/inflator kit is your only option.
“Practicality” is about as relevant to this car as a code of ethics is to a drug dealer or a contract killer, because the SL63 buyer is hardly worried about cupholders and boot space. For what it's worth, there are four cupholders in the two-seater cabin (which might explain why owners aren't worried about their liquid carrying prospects) and a minimum boot space of 364 litres and a maximum - with roof up - of 504, which is actually not bad.
Cleverly, there's a little robot-operated luggage cover inside the deep boot that stops your gear from being crushed when the roof goes down.
There's also space in the long doors where you might secrete a bottle of wine that would get a NSW Premier fired if he thanks you for it, and a bin in the console to hide your phone.
Price and features
In a classic less-is-more (money) scenario, the $189,529 BMW M4 CS cops a decent serving of standard features, but misses out on some of the luxury trimmings included on the next-rung-down M4 Competition ($156,710).
Standard inclusions run to adaptive LED headlights (including 'BMW Selective Beam' anti-dazzle tech), adaptive M suspension, combination 'Merino' leather/Alcantara seat trim, Alcantara-wrapped 'M' sports steering wheel (with blue/red stitching), a configurable head-up display, a 'BMW Individual' Anthracite roofliner, 'Comfort Access' (keyless entry and start), plus the 'iDrive6' multimedia system (managed via controller, touch or voice) running through an 8.8-inch, high-definition screen.
There are also big 10-spoke forged alloy rims, front-seat heating, sat nav, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear park distance control, 'Surround View' parking assist, and the 'BMW ConnectedDrive' suite ('BMW Connected+' smartphone app, real-time traffic info, concierge services, and more).
That's a heavyweight equipment list for a car that's all about lightness. Inside, besides the basic door and centre console arrangement, the other significant concessions to kilo stripping are a 'specially adapted' 12-speaker version of Harman/Kardon's 'Surround Sound' audio system with DAB+ digital radio (16-speaker in the Competition), and a simplified, single-zone climate control set-up (dual-zone in the Competition).
Kind of like the CEO wearing a Swatch watch; they're wealthy and powerful, but 'all about performance', so they wear a functional, conspicuously un-flashy timepiece. They still live in a $10m penthouse apartment, though.
It’s difficult to ponder the idea of value when a car is already approaching $400,000 at a rapid rate even before you start piling on the options. On the plus side, for a list price of $368,715 you do get an extremely long list of standard equipment.
Edited highlights include leather on almost every available surface, heated and cooled electric seats with a fan heater for your neck, a B&O stereo that will shatter the windscreen on request, aluminium trim that's real aluminium (mostly), Active Ride suspension, sat nav, dual-zone climate control, active cruise, LED headlights and a huge swag of safety gear.
The 12-speaker stereo also has DVD, limited smartphone integration via Mercedes' COMAND system, a seven-inch screen and, of course, Bluetooth.
Engine & trans
Like its E9 coupe forbear, the M4 CS is powered by an in-line six-cylinder engine, but things have moved on over the last 50 years, and the current (S55) engine offers a mechanical case study in the marriage of high-performance and efficiency.
The all-alloy unit features direct injection and twin turbos, the key drivers behind a stonking 600Nm of maximum torque (50kW up on the M4 Competition), available from 4000-5380rpm, and peak power of 338kW (+7kW), arriving at 6250 rpm.
It also features a 'charge air' (air-to-air) intercooler, 'Double Vanos' variable cam timing, and 'Valvetronic' variable valve lift (inlet and exhaust side).
The sleeveless cylinders use 'Electric Arc Wire Spray' technology to form a thin coating of iron on the cylinder walls, to save weight (no cast-iron liners) and reduce manufacturing complexity. And the engine's closed-deck design increases the block's torsional rigidity, enabling a substantial 10.2:1 compression ratio and use of a lightweight, forged crankshaft.
Transmission is a seven-speed 'M Double-Clutch' (M DCT) dual-clutch auto, complete with dedicated oil cooler, and drive is distributed across the rear axle via an electronically controlled, multi-plate 'Active M Differential'.
The SL63 is powered by Mercedes’ increasingly famous V8, with two turbos along for the ride to add oomph and cut the car's famous consumption, at least slightly. The 5.5-litre unit produces a massive 430kW and a scarcely believable 900Nm of torque.
All of that heads rearward via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that helps sling the 4.6m, 1848kg machine to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 8.3L/100km, the twin-turbo six emitting 194g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over roughly 350km of city, suburban and freeway driving (much of it 'enthusiastic') we recorded 10.9L/100km (at the bowser) An impressive number for such a strongly performance-focused machine.
Minimum fuel requirement is 98 RON premium unleaded, and you'll need 60 litres of it to fill the tank.
Much as is the case with the price, there's no real way to soften the blow here - the SL63 drinks like a footballer on Mad Monday, except it does it every day. The official combined cycle figure of 10.2L/100km is quite easy to double, as we did, averaging 21L/100km in mostly flowing suburban traffic. In the car’s defence, the accelerator pedal spent a good deal of time near the firewall.
The SL does have stop-start to help reduce its considerable environmental impact.
Let's get it out of the way. The M4 CS is fast. Anything running 0-100km/h in less than four seconds gains admission to a seriously rapid club, and BMW claims 3.9sec for this car (an exact match for the soon-to-arrive Merc-AMG C63 S Coupe).
We might have given the standard launch-control system a go, and may be able to confirm straight-line acceleration from step-off will compress your chest like an over-zealous lifesaver at CPR practice.
But just as impressive is the in-gear thrust, with 80km/h to licence loss (120km/h) covered in only 3.4sec. Which plays to the twin-turbo six's strength, with maximum torque arriving at a relatively high 4000rpm, and remaining on tap until 5380rpm.
Power doesn't reach its peak until 6250rpm, with the rev ceiling sitting at 7600rpm; impressively high for a twin-turbo engine.
Everything from the DSC, ABS, and active suspension to the active diff, electrically assisted steering and seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission has been tuned specifically for the M4 CS.
The 'M DCT' auto is agreeably civilised at parking speeds, yet shifts positively and rapidly, especially in manual mode, under pressure at higher pace.
An M Sport exhaust system features electronically controlled flaps sitting directly in front of the rear mufflers, and varies the intensity of the accompanying soundtrack according to drive mode and level of aggression. It sounds suitably angry, but those hoping for the soaring purity of say the (S54) naturally aspirated in-line six found under the bonnet of the E46 M3 will be left hankering for the good old days.
Front suspension is a modified MacPherson strut design, with a five-link set-up at the rear, and data from wheel-acceleration sensors on each corner is used to recalibrate each damper's setting every 2.5 milliseconds.
The drivetrain, suspension and steering can each be dialled into 'Comfort', 'Sport' or 'Sport+' modes, and the CS's ride changes markedly in the switch from Comfort to Sport; the former proving compliant and smooth rolling over rough city surfaces, and the latter keeping things reassuringly buttoned down on a B-road blast.
Although BMW says that, unlike the M4 GTS, it has deliberately steered the M4 CS away from a focus on the circuit (no roll cage, no adjustable splitters or spoilers) we'd suggest it's best to keep the Sport+ suspension setting for track days unless you're already planning on replacing some of your older fillings.
Speaking of track days, BMW says the M4 CS's dynamics were “honed on the Nurburgring Nordschleife” where it's recorded a best lap time of 7:38, which is as fast as a Ferrari 458 Italia and Lexus LFA. That's very, very impressive.
At 1580kg the M4 CS is 35kg lighter than the M4 Competition (1615kg), and just five kegs under the Pure (1585kg), so despite all the light-weighting hype it's worth remembering we're still looking at a car tipping the scales at just under 1.6 tonnes.
The electromechanical steering can also be tuned through the three performance modes, and Sport delivers the best combination of quick turn-in, agreeably linear assistance and decent road feel.
But putting the CS's power down out of even moderately quick, tight corners is less convincing. The big forged-alloy rims (19-inch front, 20-inch rear) are shod with ultra-high-performance Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber (265/35 front – 285/30 rear).
Squeezing the power in smoothly but quickly, the semi-slick tyres feel like they need more heat in them. Without going anywhere near the DSC's more taily 'M Dynamic' modes, and despite the active diff, the rear of the car will squirm when fed full throttle acceleration on corner exit, unsettling overall balance. Less edgy Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres are a no-cost option.
The standard M sport front seats look the part (the M4 logos in the backrest illuminate!) and grip firmly without any discomfort for this 183cm tester.
And when it comes to slowing everything down, the standard brakes run to big ventilated discs front and rear, clamped by four-piston calipers at the front, and two-piston at the rear.
Our test example was optioned with the $15,000 'M carbon ceramic' package featuring humungous carbon rotors, thumping six-piston calipers up front, and four-piston rear. For that money you'd expect Le Mans-style braking performance, and while we didn't exactly put them to a 24-hour high-speed test, firm application of the left-hand pedal will consistently stand the car on its nose.
There are a number of impressive things about the way the SL drives. Firstly, astronauts will be familiar with the galactic thrust of the V8. It seems endless, seamless and ready to sling the big coupe into the outer atmosphere. Few engines of any kind can match the relentless go on offer in the SL and much of the credit should go to the seven-speed twin-clutch transmission.
Containing a torque figure like the twin-turbo V8's requires a lot of electro-trickery to stop you from being launched off the road. The great thing about all that stuff is that it works unobtrusively and smoothly.
Mashing the carpet in an SL without traction control would create much sound and smoke but little forward progress, such is the twist on tap. The SL has a range of modes from full-nanny (which is meant to keep you on the slippery Alpine road you've chosen to get you to some Swiss ski resort) while turning the dial all the way around to Race loosens the bonds.
It's in this mode you'll have the most fun and it does seem that the intermediate settings are a bit of a waste of time. Race mode does little to diminish the amazing ride quality provided by the active suspension setup, but relaxes the reins on the huge rear tyres. Exiting roundabouts is suddenly a huge laugh, with the tail cheerfully breaking traction and the two-mode exhaust thundering in a most pleasant way.
Better still is that when you jump on the brakes and shift down, the exhaust keeps the show going with angry crackles and pops, with more on the way when you lift off. There's little to match the aural pleasures of a properly tuned V8 and Mercedes has resisted the temptation to quieten it down on the outside and generate a fake noise for the inside. Although that would be stupid in a convertible, if you think about it.
The SL63, despite its AMG badge, isn't about all-out handling, of course. The Ferrari California would definitely show it how it’s done on a winding country road. The SL is more about flow, building momentum and rarely shifting down to second gear. The monstrous torque is enough to keep things rolling but should you wish for a bit more of the exhaust bellow, second is there for the taking.
Hustling the big convertible feels wrong, not because it can't do it, but because it's not really what it's for. Having said that, it offers a kind of fun that nothing else on Earth will provide, not even a Bentley GTC.
With the roof up, the SL63 is a quiet place but not remarkably so. The huge sticky tyres do the cabin's hush no favours, with an annoying roar on a wider range of surfaces than you might expect.
Roof down, it's hardly a paragon of virtue. A lot of wind noise reaches the cabin, even well below the huge speeds the SL can reach. So if you want to talk, it's windows up you'll need to deploy the mesh screen that bridges the roll hoops.
The BMW 4 Series (and by extension the M4 CS) hasn't been assessed for crash safety by ANCAP or EuroNCAP, but boasts a solid array of active and passive safety tech, with several notable omissions.
To help you avoid a crash the M4 CS features ABS, brake assist, EBA, EBD, 'Cornering Brake Control' (CBC), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and dry braking, 'Emergency stop signal', lane-departure warning and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.
M4 owners also receive a complimentary BMW Intensive Driving Experience course (one person per vehicle purchase), which is arguably the best crash prevention measure of all.
But significantly, there's no AEB (Auto Emergency Braking) or other, more recent safety bits and pieces (found on other current BMW models) like blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, fatigue detection, reverse collision avoidance, or speed-sign recognition and warning.
If all else fails and a collision is unavoidable passive safety tech runs to head and side airbags for the driver and front passenger, as well as curtain airbags covering front and rear. But again, things like an active bonnet and active front head restraints, fitted elsewhere in the BMW world, are MIA.
There are ISOFIX child-restraint anchors with top tether points in each of the rear seat positions.
Warranty cover is three years/unlimited km, with 24/7 roadside assistance included for three years, and additional support from BMW 'Servicemobiles' (07:00 – 23:00 every day) staffed by trained techs and stocked with key service parts.
Maintenance on all BMW 4 Series models is controlled by a 'Condition Based Servicing' system which piles real-time data (mileage, time since last service, fuel consumption, and how the car has been driven) into a specific algorithm to determine whether an annual vehicle inspection or (oil) service is due.